Caving and Gazing at Great Basin
Great Basin became a National Park in 1986. Its relatively isolated location attracts only 200,000 visitors per year. That’s approximately 95% fewer visitors than what Yellowstone gets. Perhap that is why this park does not collect a fee, although there is an optional donation box in the visitor center.
There are three not-to-be-missed features in the park: Lehman cave, the bristlecone forest (see next post), and the night sky. We planned ahead, so we arrived at the park with tickets for the Lehman cave tour. It's a good thing, because the tours were sold out.
I’ve been to a number of caves, but Lehman is my favorite that’s available for public tour. It is loaded with formations, many of them are rare (shields, helictites, anthodites). During the tour, the ranger turns out the lights so you can experience total darkness. It’s awesome!
Baker, Nevada has temperatures typically in the 90's F. during the summer. The cave is a cool 50 degrees or so, making it the place to be midday.
The Lehman Caves visitor center is the start of the cave tour, but it is also the location of the astronomy program that runs a few nights a week. Great Basin National Park is a declared dark sky site. The park doesn’t have any upward pointing white lights that can wash out the stars, so the Milky Way is easy to see. On astronomy nights, one of the rangers gives a talk outdoors while the sun sets. After the talk, a group of the pull out the telescopes and aim them at such things as Jupiter and Saturn. Everyone gets a turn to look through the scopes. Even without the telescope, you can use your naked eye to see the Milky Way and search for the shapes of the constellations.